I’m coming to the end of my time as a part time house-husband as the need for a bigger income because of increased outgoings starts to really bite. I have to re-enter to world of the full time worker, which is a real shame as I’ve loved having more time than most dads do with my kids.
It was my last Friday with my youngest, on his own, last week. I’d decided to go into central London on the train with a view to going to Spitalfields first, and then perhaps going on to the river or the South Bank. As it happened, his sleep patterns changed and I altered my plans after Spitalfields to have a coffee and pick up some new socks and pants from Marks and Spencer on Moorgate. I know; memorable.
I know this particular branch from past lives working in this general area – it’s a big branch in the heart of the City with four floors and a pretty full range of services available in store. On entering with Bub in the pushchair, asleep, I noted that menswear was on the second floor and went off to find the lift. I didn’t find a lift and asked back at the front of the store where it was. There is no lift. THERE IS NO LIFT!! Retailers get pretty sniffy about pushchairs on escalators (most have a sign asking pushchairs to use….the lift, or ever worse, to fold the pushchair up – can you imagine!), and I was offered the service lift as an alternative, which I refused as being awkward, inconvenient and second class.
I’ve had my fair share of shoddy experiences with the kids in our fine capital city – the badly located shelving in Ryman, the poorly thought out changing rooms in Pizza Hut, overlooking fathers in Daunt Books - but this one is especially annoying as I expect better of Marks and Spencer. But it masks a wider problem with lifts in shops.
Moorgate Marks and Spencers aside, most stores with a couple of floors will have a lift for people with buggies and for those with difficulties using stairs (I’m pretty sure it’s a requirement of the Disability Discrimination Act). However, my experience is one of being largely inconvenienced by a lot of lifts. Clothing and homeware store, Next, is particularly bad, with lifts often small and at the back of the store (whilst stairs are usually at the front), badly signposted and difficult to access because of the densely packed clothing racks – a recent example was the Marble Arch store. The lift in the Brent Cross Marks and Spencer is by the entrance to the store, but if you come in via the wrong entrance or miss it because it’s a busy shopping day, the signage within the store is pretty poor.
Exacerbating the problem of lifts is the layout of stores. Often childrens clothing is on upper floors or in the basement. Clearly, people wanting to buy kids clothes are much more likely to have pushchairs than those who are not, and it seems ridiculous to require people with buggies to find the lift, wait for it and use it to access upper floors when having clothing on the ground floor would be much more practical. The possible reason for not doing this is economic (i.e. the largest returns are from female fashion which is therefore placed in the most visible and accessible place)
And here lies a further problem; requiring people with buggies to use the lifts to access the clothes they need to buy often means that lift capacity is inadequate. This will be increasingly noticeable in the run up to Christmas, but is apparent on many weekends. The worst culprit I’ve seen in this regard is supposed British icon, Hamleys which, last time I visited, had totally inadequate lifts which lead to long queues and aisles stuffed with pushchairs waiting to get up and/or down. The experience was horrible and has ensured that I’ll never go back.
I know times are austere, but the impression I’m left with is that people with pushchairs are secondary in the minds of those designing and planning retail environments. Sure, many can point to the provision of a lift, but in practice it’s often a fraught process because of inadequate signage, inadequate capacity required usage and reduced mobility. Moving about the city environment is hard enough with any number of kids and has many challenges. It would be nice to think that retailers could have a go at making it that tiny amount more palatable by addressing some of the problems caused by the location and accessibility of their products to those with buggies (or in the case of Moorgate M&S, putting a lift in at all).